Book 1, Chapter 2, Pre 55 BC – The Early Britons – Continued
Besides what has been advanced, they could not have been absolute savages, who reared those gigantic and wondrous monuments, which the hand of Time during eighteen centuries has not been able to destroy. Mere brute strength could not have lifted up rough pillars at Stonehenge and Avebury, or the various “cromlechs” still existing in various parts of the land. Some acquaintance with mechanical laws and forces must have been possessed by those who erected the piles, whenever they were reared, and for whatever purposes they were used. Their design and use have been matters of conjecture for a period of at least seven hundred years. Henry of Huntingdon, who wrote in the early part of the twelfth century, gave a list of British wonders, among which Stonehenge occupies the second place. He says, “At Stanhenges, stones of wonderful magnitude are raised in the manner of doors, so that they seem like doors placed over doors, nor can anyone imagine by what art they were raised, or how constructed.
Archaeologists are divided in opinion as to the original purpose of these structures. Some are of opinion that they were temples, or courts of justice, or place of assembly, that a flat stone, resembling a table, found in the centre, was the altar of sacrifice, that the number and disposition of the stones in the circle were mystical and symbolic. Other antiquaries are of opinion that these monuments are of a sepulchral character, from the fact of being mostly found in the vicinity of “barrows,” or mounds of earth, in which as have been already stated, cinerary urns, and implements have been discovered. The “cromlech” is usually a rough chamber, enclosed on three sides by upright slabs of stone, and covered with a fourth slab. Such is the remarkable one on the hill between Rochester and Maidstone, known as Kits Cotty House.
Some of these stones are very large. The covering of the cromlech of Chan Quoit, in Cornwall, is estimated to weigh twenty tons and that of Kits Cotty at ten and a half tons. Others are much smaller. The stones do not appear to have been hewn or dressed, but to have been placed as near together as their natural shapes would allow. Sometimes, as at Plas Newydd, in Anglesea, cromlechs are found side by side. The varying positions of these early monuments are attributable to the silent inroads of time, and sometimes, to rough pillage for house building and road mending.
The so called “Druid’s circle” at Stonehenge (an Anglo Saxon term, meaning “the hanging stones”) consisted originally of an outer circle of thirty upright, stones, sustaining as many others placed horizontally, so as to form a continuous circle. The uprights were about fourteen feet above the ground, seven broad, and three thick. Each of these had two tenons or projections on the top, fitting into mortices or hollows in the super incumbent slabs. This circle was about one hundred feet in diameter, and within it was another, eighty three feet in diameter, but the upright stones were much smaller, and stood alone. Within this inner circle were several truths, or groups of three stones, two upright and one flat, and ranging from sixteen to twenty one feet in height. It is difficult now to form an accurate idea from observation, of the primary forms and positions of these massive stones, for many of them have fallen or become fractured, during the lapse of ages, or they are partly hidden by the accretions of the soil. The same remark applies to the circle at Avebury, about twenty miles from Stonehenge, and which, in some respects, is the more remarkable of the two. From the wide area which it covers being intersected by fields, and dotted about with various buildings, it is impossible for the eye accurately to estimate the extent and magnitude of the remains.
Chapter 2, The Early Britons
Monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury
Categories: Book 1